Tenzin Namgyal, who is Thrangu Rinpoche’s brother-in-law, was the personal secretary of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa for the last 30 years of Karmapa’s life. He was asked at the Fourth Namo Buddha Seminar to tell the story of Thrangu Rinpoche’s life. This story is inset and the other comments were gathered by Clark Johnson.
I have been with Thrangu Rinpoche for 28 years, which was just about a year after Thrangu Rinpoche came out of Tibet. I have spent a lot of time with Thrangu Rinpoche and have been very interested in his life. Many people have asked Thrangu Rinpoche where he was born and so on. So Thrangu Rinpoche retold these things, and I wrote them all down in a book. Unfortunately, I don’t have this book with me, so I won’t be able to give a complete description of everything.
Thrangu Rinpoche was born on the tenth day of the tenth Tibetan month in 1933. Tibetans don’t really keep track of or celebrate their birthday, but Rinpoche is sure of the date because his father was away at a religious festival which is celebrated on this particular day. Thrangu Rinpoche’s birth was somewhat unusual, and Tenzin Namgyal relates:
I have asked Rinpoche’s mother a lot of questions about his birth. Nothing was unusual except that when she had been pregnant for about three or four months, she had a dream in which she went into a monastery and all the monks were sitting there in the temple. There was a big ladle that they used to serve food, and she was giving food to all the monks. It was a very vivid dream, and throughout the day, it stayed in her mind and wouldn’t go away. Later when Thrangu Rinpoche had been recognized and was brought to the monastery, his mother arrived there, and when she went in through the door of the monastery, she saw that it was exactly like in her dream—the exact same size and very familiar, just like seeing one’s own house.
Thrangu Rinpoche was born in the winter in Tibet. In front of their house was a frozen river. But on the morning of his birth, the river thawed. It thawed before the sun came up, and people were very surprised and wondered what it meant that the ice had melted so early in the morning. After the ice had melted, all these birds came to wash themselves in the river, which was quite unusual. They also heard a cuckoo, which is never seen in that part of Tibet in the winter. It’s only in the summer that the cuckoo bird is present, but the cuckoo was heard quite clearly.
Rinpoche’s family consists of a father, mother, brother, and two sisters. His mother died in Rumtek in 1986, and his father died several years before that. One sister was married to Tenzin Namgyal and helped with Rinpoche’s school for many years. His other sister used to own a shop on the Bodhanath stupa near Rinpoche’s monastery and now lives in the US. Rinpoche’s brother served as the general secretary of Rinpoche’s monastery for many years.
Several years before Rinpoche’s birth, the head lama of Thrangu Monastery (who was the eighth Thrangu Tulku Rinpoche) died. It is quite extraordinary to think that this long line of nine great scholars and practitioners were simply named after the monastery that they came from. This monastery is located in Eastern Tibet in the Kham region and is actually just over the mountain from Surmang Monastery where Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche lived. The elders of the monastery went to His Holiness Karmapa to identify the reincarnation of the eighth Thrangu Tulku. Tenzin picks up the story here:
Thrangu Rinpoche’s family were practitioners of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism. When Thrangu Rinpoche was about one year old, his father took him to the Sakya monastery, Kyegu Monastery, to see a tulku there called Jnana Tulku, who was an emanation of Sakya Gomchen, to give Rinpoche a name. Jnana Tulku said, “Someone will come later to give this child his name, so I am not going to give him a name. But the child does have a very big obstacle. And so if you do the necessary things and are able to eliminate the obstacle, this child will benefit all beings and will spread a lot of happiness in the future. But the giving of his name will have to wait.” The father brought the child back home. But Thrangu Rinpoche’s father was a very quiet person, so when he got home, he didn’t really say anything about what had happened. He just kept quiet.
When Rinpoche was two years old, Traleg Rinpoche, who was the head of Thrangu Monastery, sent a message to Thrangu Rinpoche’s father asking him to come see him. So Thrangu Rinpoche’s father went there and Traleg Rinpoche said that this child born in the year of the bird (1933) had been identified by His Holiness Karmapa and by Tai Situpa Rinpoche as being the ninth Thrangu Rinpoche. So his son was a tulku and he should take care of him by keeping him clean and the like. Rinpoche’s father returned home and was quite convinced that his son must be the Thrangu Tulku. He was very happy, and when he returned home he said to the family, “Our child is the Thrangu Tulku because he’s been identified as such by Situpa Rinpoche and the Karmapa.” But his mother had an older brother who was a monk from Kyegu Monastery who said, “It’s just that Thrangu Monastery is trying to get hold of our child, it’s not because he’s a tulku.”
So Tai Situpa Rinpoche and His Holiness Karmapa wrote a letter identifying Thrangu Rinpoche. In the letter it said that to the east of Thrangu Monastery in a place called Rarunda there is a wealthy family. The door of their house faces the east and the mother’s name is Kelsang and the father’s name is Dondrup. All this was completely accurate. The name of the town was right, the door faced the right direction, and the mother’s name was Kelsang Drolma and the father’s name was Kunga Dondrup. The Karmapa also said that on the roof of the house was a prayer flag and at the base of the prayer flag there was a stone with a shortened version of the ten-syllable Kalachakra mantra standing upright against the base of the prayer flag. No one in the house knew whether there was such a stone there or not. When they read this in the letter, they went up to the roof and found this small stone with the Kalachakra syllables on it. No one else knew about this stone, yet it was just as it was described in the Karmapa’s letter. When the brother who was the Sakya monk saw this, he was quite amazed and felt a very great conviction that the boy was indeed the Thrangu Tulku. He put the letter on top of his head [a sign of respect in Tibet] and said that from now on he had total conviction in it, and he made all the arrangements needed for recognizing a tulku.Thrangu Rinpoche has been asked if he remembers his past and if he really is a tulku. The times I have heard him answer, he has said that he has remembered little about his previous life. He has also said that he has no special powers or abilities and that sometimes when the Karmapa is asked to recognize a tulku and that tulku has gone beyond being reincarnated, the Karmapa “looks around” for a worthy candidate and says that person is the reincarnation. He says he is most likely one of those tulkus. Others believe that Rinpoche is just being overly modest. This conviction is based on events which Tenzin described in the continuing story he obtained from Rinpoche’s family members.
When Thrangu Rinpoche was still very little and just starting to speak, he kept saying every day, “I’ve got a white dog and a white mule. Bring me my white dog and my white mule.” So one day his family went on a pilgrimage to a place called Jnana Mani where they circumambulated a large mani stone. They saw a white dog, bought it, brought it back, and said, “We’ve brought you your white dog.” But Thrangu Rinpoche became very upset and angry and said, “You know this is not my dog!” and stamped his feet and cried. “This is not my dog. You are all very bad. You bought me this dog. It’s not mine.” This all happened because the previous, eighth Thrangu Rinpoche had a white dog and a white mule. When he passed away, these were kept at Thrangu Monastery.
When Thrangu Rinpoche was about three years old, he was taken to Thrangu Monastery, still asking for his mule and dog. An attendant of the previous Thrangu Rinpoche said, “It is true. There is this white dog and a white mule that belonged to the previous Thrangu Rinpoche. They are here, but they are both very old.” So they brought them, and Thrangu Rinpoche was overjoyed when he saw them and was happy to be with them.
(Tenzin continues) This is a clear indication of reincarnation and a very clear sign Rinpoche was the reincarnation of the previous Thrangu Tulku. All these events are things that all the people around there saw. The young Thrangu Rinpoche also identified other possessions of the previous Thrangu Rinpoche.
In his fifth year, Rinpoche’s father and mother went to Thrangu Monastery to give the new Thrangu Rinpoche to the monastery. There was an attendant of the previous Thrangu Rinpoche, and that first night, instead of staying with his mother, he went to sleep in the attendant’s room. He was very glad to see the attendant and to be with him and didn’t even look at his mother.
From that time on, he started studying with a teacher called Karma Wangchuk. Occasionally, he would go to see his parents, but usually he didn’t even think about them and concentrated on his studies. He was very intelligent and understood everything he was taught.
Thrangu Monastery had its own protector deity which was called a genyan. This deity looked after Thrangu Rinpoche a lot. There was a monk at Thrangu Monastery who was a clairvoyant and could see many things others couldn’t see. When Thrangu Rinpoche was brought to his enthronement at the age of five, this man saw the genyan with a retinue of many other deities all come to greet him in an elaborate greeting.
Rinpoche was later asked about this genyan, and he said that the genyan is a protector of the area around his monastery—in other words, a local deity who became a protector of the dharma, a dharmapala. The previous Thrangu Tulku had made many offerings to this genyan, and when Rinpoche was growing up, he did not make any offerings to it. Things were not going well, and this clairvoyant monk told Rinpoche that the genyan was not happy, so Rinpoche began making offerings to it even though he had been taught that everything is just mind. As we will see, this genyan who appears in various forms was to save Rinpoche’s life. When Rinpoche is asked about these types of beings, he replies that just because you cannot see these being with your eyes, you cannot assume that they don’t exist. Next Tenzin relates Rinpoche’s life after entering the monastery:
The previous Traleg Rinpoche and the previous Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, who were alive at the time, had said that there should be a college (shedra) established at Thrangu Monastery, which would be very beneficial in the future. So they created this college at Thrangu Monastery and asked a khenpo from Sechen Monastery (a Nyingma monastery) to teach there. The purpose was to have a college which would be specifically Karma Kagyu and to study the writings of the eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje and the other Kagyu masters so that these teachings could be maintained. After they created this college, Thrangu Rinpoche was its principal pupil, and the khenpo from Sechen Monastery had the transmission of the teachings of the Kagyu masters. Thrangu Rinpoche studied there and was most intelligent and clever in his ability to learn and understand. He also had amazing diligence, with no one coming close to his diligence. He was the very best student at the college.
Thrangu Rinpoche was ordained with Trungpa Rinpoche by His Holiness Karmapa. One story that Rinpoche tells about the time was that when he was with His Holiness Karmapa and Chogyam Trungpa, Karmapa turned to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and said, “In the future you will bring dharma to the west.” I am sure both were rather startled and wondered why western Tibet would need the dharma.
The invasion of Tibet by the Chinese began in 1958, which was when Thrangu Rinpoche was twenty-five years old and still engaged in his studies.
Tenzin describes the onset of the invasion very clearly:
When the Chinese takeover of Tibet began in 1958, the new Traleg Rinpoche was very young, and the Zuru Rinpoche was very old, so all the responsibilities fell mainly on Thrangu Rinpoche. They all left Kham to go west toward Lhasa. There were thousands of Tibetans going west as refugees from Kham when the fighting broke out. The people were leaving in huge numbers accompanied by many yaks. Thrangu Rinpoche was leading a small party of less than a hundred. They would stop and camp by setting up lots of tents at night. One night an extremely old lady appeared among the thousands of people camped with all these yaks, and no one knew where she had come from. People said that she was a spy for the Chinese and if they didn’t kill her, they wouldn’t be able to escape. So the younger Tibetans were getting ready to kill her, but Thrangu Rinpoche said, “No, you mustn’t do that. The reason we are running away is to save lives. So if we kill someone, what will that be?” He said not to kill her, so they didn’t.
The next day when they were traveling, a plane flew past to see where they were going. That afternoon they camped out to eat at about 3:00 in the afternoon. Then it got dark and they did not see that they were completely surrounded by Chinese soldiers. The Chinese had machine guns and some kind of artillery. The machine guns started to fire, and the people thought there was nowhere to go and just sat there. Thrangu Rinpoche said, “We mustn’t just sit here, we must escape.” So the machine guns were firing and the yaks were all panicking and all running into each other. All the people were jumping on horses to escape. All the time bullets were flying by and this mortar or cannon fired and the shell came down right where Thrangu Rinpoche, Traleg Rinpoche, and Zuru Tulku were. The shell landed right next to them with a thump. It made a hole in the ground, but it didn’t explode.
Thrangu Rinpoche had a large white horse and a very strong person who looked after his horse. But the horse was uncontrollable in the panic and it was rearing up, and the horse trainer just couldn’t hold the horse. Then a large monk appeared on the scene, grabbed the horse, pulled it down, got hold of Thrangu Rinpoche, and put him on the horse. Rinpoche rode off. If he hadn’t been able to get on the horse, he would never have been able to get away. It turned out that Thrangu Rinpoche, Traleg Tulku, and Zuru Tulku all got away safely. Afterward everyone was asking who this monk was. But everyone said, “No, it wasn’t me.”
It turned out that this “monk” was the genyan, the dharma protector that appears in all different forms. Sometimes he appears as an elephant, sometimes as a kind of sadhu, sometimes as a lama in monk’s robes, and so on. From this, one can see how Thrangu Rinpoche’s dharma protector is always there at the right time and gives whatever help is needed. Tenzin continues:
The party was able to carry on and get to Tsurphu, the Karmapa’s monastery in Tibet, and see the Karmapa. When Thrangu Rinpoche arrived, I was with His Holiness, and with my own ears I heard the Karmapa say that Thrangu Rinpoche was the main scholar, the most learned person, of the Kagyu school. With him the continuity of the teaching of the dharma will remain. So he was very important for the transmission of the actual teachings.
When Tenzin and His Holiness Karmapa were leaving Tibet for Rumtek, Karmapa told Thrangu Rinpoche that he mustn’t stay and must come and follow him. So Thrangu Rinpoche left Tibet at the age of 27 and went to Sikkim. At this time all the monasteries were being destroyed, most of the Buddhist monks of any standing were being imprisoned and tortured, and all the accumulated texts of over 1,200 years were being burned. Only 100,000 Tibetans were able to escape. It looked as if the Tibetan Buddhist lineages were destined to die out in much the same way Buddhism in India was destroyed by the Muslim invasion. To prevent the Kagyu lineage of Tilopa, Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa from dying out, Thrangu Rinpoche was asked by His Holiness Karmapa to become the first Kagyu lama to obtain a geshe degree. Now a geshe degree is like a Ph.D. except that it entails daily study for sixteen years. The study includes the memorization, recitation, and debate of highly complex Buddhist texts. Thrangu Rinpoche left for India and went to a site called Buxa, which was a Tibetan refugee camp where about a thousand learned Tibetan refugees from all the schools of Tibet congregated. Thrangu Rinpoche studied there diligently for eight years and then in 1968 was sent by His Holiness Karmapa to be examined. Thrangu Rinpoche gave a dharma exposition to 1,500 monks at the Buxador monastic refugee camp and was awarded the degree of not only the geshe but geshe rabjam, which is an extremely high rank. After receiving this degree, he then went to Rumtek, where the Karmapa made him the first khenpo for Rumtek Monastery and all other Kagyu monasteries. He became the abbot of Rumtek Monastery itself and of the Nalanda Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies within Rumtek. This Nalanda Institute was the monastic college (shedra) in which all the young Kagyu tulkus were to be trained. Rinpoche’s responsibility was to establish what was to be taught in this lineage and how it was to be taught. His Holiness Karmapa had brought out four young tulkus who had been teachers of the Karmapa in previous lifetimes. These four were to take over when he left, and Thrangu Rinpoche taught these four regents (Tai Situpa Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Shamar Rinpoche, and Gyaltsap Rinpoche) as well as many other tulkus. He also did some of the calligraphies on the walls of Rumtek Monastery and wrote a book on the life of His Holiness Karmapa (in Tibetan, untranslated).
During this time Tenzin relates this story:
One day Thrangu Rinpoche was talking to Tenzin and said, “I had a very strange dream last night. There was this big green plain, and on the plain was a black bull. Then a voice said, ‘This is your rebirth.’ I thought this was rather disturbing. I mean, I don’t see why I should be reborn a black bull. I’ve been a monk and kept all the vows, and I’ve not harmed anyone. So this is a very strange, disturbing dream.” They went to the Karmapa and told him about the dream, and the Karmapa put his hands together in the gesture of homage and said, “This is really special. There is nothing bad in this dream at all. It’s only the great lamas who can spontaneously remember previous lifetimes. And so that is what this is—Thrangu Rinpoche’s memory of a previous rebirth. This is quite wonderful.”
Tenzin says that Thrangu Rinpoche has clairvoyant powers, so he sees deities, demons, and other things, but he never says anything about them. If someone asks him about his clairvoyance, he just says that he doesn’t have any. But once in Rumtek he said he had the idea of making a retreat center at Namo Buddha in Nepal. When he told others, they said that it wasn’t really a good idea to put a retreat center way out there on that hill because people are not going to have food to eat or anything. So people such as Tenga Rinpoche thought it was a bad idea. But Thrangu Rinpoche said no, he was definitely going to build a retreat center at Namo Buddha. It was like a prophecy.
In 1976 His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa came to Nepal and did the traditional pilgrimage, visiting the Swayambhu Stupa, Bodhanath Stupa, and Namo Buddha. The Swayambhu Stupa is in Kathmandu and is very sacred. Below the 150-foot stupa, which rests on a 600-foot hill, is a crystal mandala of Chakrasamvara which was visited in times of need by the kings of Nepal. The hidden mandala hasn’t been visited since the early 1900s. The Bodhanath Stupa is about five miles away and was constructed centuries ago and blessed by Padmasambhava. In its center is a sacred tree which reportedly houses the remains of one of the former buddhas. Finally, Namo Buddha is about 40 miles away on a high hill. On this hill is a rock where the Buddha in a previous life was said to have first developed true compassion. He was a prince and he cut the flesh from his arm and fed it to a dying tigress and her cubs, as is told in the sutras. The traditional Buddhist pilgrimage consists of visiting these three sites in one day. At the Bodhanath Stupa, His Holiness made the prediction that if the stupa was surrounded by Buddhist monasteries, the dharma would live on for a long time. Since that time the Tibetans have built over twenty monasteries around this stupa. At the Swayambhu Stupa ringsels, which are small colored rocks created by religious activity, not any natural phenomena, spontaneously fell from the stupa. This was described in the book Women of Wisdom.
Thrangu Rinpoche was on this pilgrimage with the Karmapa and stayed in Nepal, living at Chokyi Nyima’s monastery. During this time, he had his first contact with Western students. Thrangu Rinpoche spoke no English at the time, and one student told me that she would communicate with him in Nepali when there was no translator. She remembers talking with him about dharma and said it was as if he would mentally leaf through thousands of pages of text and then recite the appropriate section. She also remembers going on a retreat and Rinpoche asking her to study the Blue Annals, which is an 800-page book. What must be remembered, of course, is that there were practically no dharma books available in English at that time. All dharma students then had to read were a few books such as Evans-Wentz’s book on Milarepa and his Tibetan Book of the Dead. If students were lucky they could obtain Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Trungpa Rinpoche.
Also in Kathmandu were a number of dharma students, including Dharma Dan and Elaine Schroeder. Dharma Dan had received some money and bought an electric typewriter. This small group then asked Thrangu Rinpoche to give teachings on practice, and they typed these pujas out on the typewriter, thus publishing Thrangu Rinpoche’s first works in English. In June 1977 Thrangu Rinpoche gave his first teaching to Western students, with Michael Lewis translating. The teaching was on Mipham’s Four Skills called The Open Door to Emptiness which was published by his students in the Philippines and is still available today under that same title. This teaching also contained the “Sword That Cuts Delusion’s Root,” which is a chod practice written by the 14th Karmapa based, of course, on the teaching of a famous woman practitioner.
Rinpoche then decided to obtain land for the retreat center at Namo Buddha. He sent Tenzin to simply go and buy it outright.
The day Tenzin set off to go buy the land was the day of the nine bad omens, which is the worst day astrologically in the whole year. When Tenzin was about to leave, someone said, “Where on earth do you think you’re going on this day? It’s the nine bad omens day.” And Tenzin said, “I’m going off to find ten good omens.” And so he went off, and along the road and he came across Ani Dechen, a nun who was carrying a large load of grain to make beer. He thought, “Oh, this is a good sign.” Later on he told Thrangu Rinpoche about it, and Thrangu Rinpoche, who usually doesn’t say very much, said, “You know, this was a good sign because there were an uncountable number of little grains in the load, so the benefit coming from Namo Buddha would also be incalculable.”
And so Namo Buddha, one of the three most sacred spots in Nepal, was purchased by Thrangu Rinpoche in 1981. Thrangu Rinpoche began building a three-year retreat center at this very sacred place. The Namo Buddha retreat center began as eight small bare concrete cells for the retreatants and a dirt-floor kitchen in which water had to be hauled up daily by hand to the top of the mountain.
In 1980 Thrangu Rinpoche also purchased land within 100 meters of the Bodhanath Stupa and Chokyi Nyima’s monastery and began building his present monastery, Thrangu Tashi Choling. This monastery has also slowly grown from just a dozen monks to a monastery that is quite large. One may wonder how this has happened, and the answer is that the word spread among the Buddhist families in the area that Thrangu Rinpoche is one of the best teachers. For this reason parents bring their seven- or eight-year-old sons to the monastery and ask Rinpoche to take them. Rinpoche tells them that their son is too young and needs to be with their family, but the family then begins to prostrate outside the monastery, and eventually Rinpoche says he will take their son. Since these families are, for the most part, penniless, Thrangu Rinpoche then has the task of feeding and clothing and educating their son. He does this by asking his Western students to sponsor a particular monk. When the monks have reached adulthood, some may decide that they no longer want to be monks. Since a “straight” dharma education of learning to read the pujas and perform them does not prepare them for later life, they were often ill prepared when they left. For this reason, Thrangu Rinpoche began visiting Western and Eastern primary schools on his trips outside of Nepal and has been providing a “Western” education including the study of English, mathematics, and social studies for these monks as well.
Thrangu Rinpoche explained once that he thought that Trungpa Rinpoche was doing such wonderful work in the West that he had no idea he would have to take on the responsibility of teaching Western students. However, in 1980 he was invited to the West for the first time by Akong Rinpoche and traveled to Samye Ling. This monastery in Scotland was also the first place where Trungpa Rinpoche went after attending Oxford University. The summer of 1980 was incredible because Thrangu Rinpoche taught daily in the mornings and Tai Situpa Rinpoche taught in the afternoons. Of all the thousands of Tibetan texts what did Thrangu Rinpoche believe were the important texts for Westerners to know? The first two texts he taught were the Uttaratantra and Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation. He also taught shamatha practice, the four foundations of Buddhist practice, and the instructions for ngondro practice. Thrangu Rinpoche was also invited by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche to teach at KTD Monastery in Woodstock, New York, where he taught ngondro and the Twenty-One Taras practice. In 1981 Rinpoche was to return to Samye Ling and to begin a series of teachings on the Kagyu lineage holders Gampopa, Marpa, and Milarepa. This was to begin a complete series of the Kagyu lineage holders all the way up to the present Karmapa. Rinpoche has always said that the spiritual biographies (Tib. namtar) are excellent inspirational material for the practitioner who might have developed some discouragement in his or her practice. He also gave a long teaching on the Abhisamayalamkara, which was the second of five teachings of Maitreya. During this time Thrangu Rinpoche also visited the Far East and began establishing centers there.
In 1985 Thrangu Rinpoche completed the first phase of building his monastery and had the main shrine room blessed by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. At the time the monastery had about 40 monks and also housed Zuru Tulku, who has always had a close association with the Thrangu Tulkus. Thrangu Rinpoche also gave teachings on the Uttaratantra that year. In the morning he taught the Western community of Kathmandu, with Erik Schmidt as translator, and in the afternoon he taught the same topic in Tibetan for his monks. This set of teachings was published as Buddha Nature. In subsequent years this monastery was to double in size and number of monks and came to have a modern kitchen, modern showers, and Western-style dormitories.
In 1985 Thrangu Rinpoche also asked Clark Johnson and Marlene Forneigel to establish an annual seminar in Nepal. When asked what to call this seminar, Thrangu Rinpoche suggested “Namo Buddha Seminar.” The seminar was held in December 1986. Just a few weeks before the participants arrived, a large four-story building to be the Shri Mangal Dvip Primary School was finished, and the participants stayed there. The First Namo Buddha Winter Seminar had 15 participants from Europe and North America. It lasted two months and included thangka painting classes, Tibetan language classes, and a Tibetan medicine class as well as numerous pilgrimages to sacred places in Nepal.
During 1985 one of Thrangu Rinpoche’s early students from England, Andrew Mitchell, together with Usha Singh formed a group in Edmonton, Canada, which Rinpoche named Karma Tashi Ling and visited in 1986 to give teachings.
In 1987 Thrangu Rinpoche felt it would be good to provide an annual set of teachings for his European students and asked Cornelia Hwang to establish the Namo Buddha Summer Seminars at Worcester College in Oxford. The first Namo Buddha Summer Seminar, which also featured Tai Situpa Rinpoche, began in 1988. It was also in this year that Namo Buddha Publications was formed with the goal of publishing all of Thrangu Rinpoche’s teachings to Western students.
In June 1988, David Tong established the Thrangu Centre in Malaysia, and Thrangu Rinpoche was able to visit Malaysia and consecrate this center on December 13, 1988. This large and thriving center is located at Petaling Jaya, which is 10 miles from Kuala Lumpur. Rinpoche also began a yearly series of empowerments in Nepal, sponsored by his Malaysian students, of the Kagyu Ngag Dzod, which covers the 27 main yidam practices of the Kagyu lineage. During this time the Ven. Thubten Thong helped establish a center for Thrangu Rinpoche in Hong Kong. This center also publishes the excellent Flash of Dharma (in Chinese), which has many articles on vajrayana Buddhism and continues to be very active. Thrangu Rinpoche has visited there almost every year.
With the generous support of Thrangu Rinpoche’s students in the Far East, in 1988 he was able to purchase a piece of land in Varanasi, India, and build the Vajra Vidya Institute, a monastic college that provides an education in advanced Buddhist philosophy to those monks who have done their studies at Namo Buddha.
In 1989 Thrangu Rinpoche suggested that Debra Ann Robinson establish an annual program for his North American students. From this the Mahamudra Retreat, which was held at Big Bear, near Los Angeles, California, was born. This retreat, with Ken McLeod translating, was organized with a great deal of help from Karma Mahasiddha Ling, Thrangu Rinpoche’s center in California. Rinpoche had given isolated teachings on mahamudra, which are the only teaching mentioned by name in the Kagyu lineage supplication, but for the next four years under the direction of Lee Miracle he was to give a definitive series of teachings devoted solely to mahamudra.
The year 1990 was a busy one, with Thrangu Rinpoche visiting over 20 countries on four continents. Besides visiting East Asia, Europe, and North America, Rinpoche visited five countries in South America for the first time. He also established the Himalayan Children’s Fund to support some of the children in his grammar school, which had grown to over 200 students. While Rinpoche was in Germany, he also established the Thrangu Nunnery Fund, a society for giving Tibetan girls and women the same opportunity to study the dharma that Tibetan monks enjoy.
In 1991 Thrangu Rinpoche took a deserved rest and did not travel to the West. He did give extensive teachings in the Far East and in Manang and Bhutan. In Manang in northern Nepal he brought some nuns who had completed their three-year retreat to Kathmandu to form the core group for his nunnery. The nunnery is supported completely by donations.
Rinpoche has continued to teach in Europe, North America, Nepal, and the Far East almost each year and in 1994 was able to visit his monastery in Tibet.